I was reminded this morning that everyone has a different definition for peace. Peace, like love, is an element, an emotion that is identified in the eye of the beholder. Some define peace as the mere absence of conflict. I don’t think that is right, because the absence of external conflict doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of internal conflict. Often what doesn’t seem to exist externally is an indication that it exists inwardly in abundance. Sometimes peace can only come after the escalation of turmoil, and although an excessive amount of conflict is dysfunctional, so is the total absence of conflict. Peace is defined by conflict. Only by engaging in the struggle can we fully understand and appreciate the surrender or victory and the peace that follows. Discerning the difference between when it is appropriate to surrender or fight for victory that is the most difficult for me to comprehend. This is certainly true of all of the external conflicts I experience, but even more so of the internal conflicts that rage within. I can easily justify my actions on behalf or against others, but I can’t fully justify, explain or even begin to understand the wars I wage against myself.
James Baldwin writes in Giovanni’s Room, “Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget it, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of denial of pain and hatred of innocence.” I’m not sure which garden Mr. Baldwin was referencing here, but I like to think that perhaps he was lamenting the fact that from a certain point of view we are all all exiled from Eden. The Garden of Eden, that place where life first emerged in perfection. Harmony existed between Creator and creation, between man and woman, without even the hint of shame or animosity. In those days Adam sung of Eve, “This is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.” They could not think of themselves without thinking of each other. This is the Eden that has been lost.
If you’ve been in any kind of relationship for any length of time, you’ve come to understand that what separates us most often is the attempt to maintain a balance between healthy self concepts and the boundaries that become blurred managing the expectations of others. We love each other until we don’t. Then the test becomes a matter of endurance, will we persevere in the relationships based upon the initial experiences of love or will we sever the union in search of a more sustainable bond? Is the exchange worth it? Will we ever recapture what we once had in the beginning, or does the fallen nature of this world always extract its costs in the form of diminishing returns. I don’t know.
I use to fancy myself an expert in lots of things, including love and relationships. Not so much anymore. Maturity on both counts renders one mostly useless when dispensing advice, or at least the kind of advice that results in wisdom. Experiences I’ve got. I can tell you about the relationships gained and lost, the people that entered and exited my world in the last fifty years. I can recount for you the moments that I failed miserably to reciprocate what was invested in my heart, and all about the times I ended up overdrawn on those emotional bank accounts. There is a kind of emotional cycle of sentimental poverty that haunts most of our lives, living from one passion paycheck to the next, in desperate need of an agitation stimulus that will bail us out of our melancholy perturbation. We are content to live with despondency deficits.
Jesus communicated profound truths via simple pictures of mustard seeds and yeast. Insignificant things have monumental consequences. In small amounts they can render amazing returns, like shade from the heat, or a place to put our feet after walking too many miles in this world. Providing warm bread to eat in a cold harsh world provides strength to carry on, as does love. Invest in loving others without thought of what may come back to you, give it away and your supply will be miraculously replenished. As a wise man once observed, “Cast your bread on the waters, and after many days it will come back to you.”
I believe this to be the key to a peace that reconciles the pieces of our broken worlds. Both externally and internally. It is to love unconditionally.